No Pasarán: The Bamban Barricade & the 1986 People Power Uprising in Pampanga

It was past 9:30 that evening when I heard the familiar roar of helicopters approaching. From the top floor windows of the Jao Building in downtown Angeles, I could make out the shape and lights of two Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giants. They came from the direction of Manila and were headed towards Clark Air Base.

IMG_7530It was February 25, 1986, the fourth day of the People Power uprising that had unexpectedly unfolded along Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) in Manila. The aborted military putsch against President Ferdinand E. Marcos a few days earlier was now the biggest threat to the survival of one of Asia’s longest ruling authoritarian regimes. With more and more Filipinos coming out in open defiance to protect reformist troops inside Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo, many predicted it would soon be over for the ailing strongman.

“Is it them? Is it finally over?” I asked myself as the helicopters began their descent towards Clark. I looked at Sonny C Lopez, my colleague at Ang Pahayagang Malaya, and the heavily armed Constabulary troops with yellow ribbons on their rifles who were with us.

“Is it them? Is it finally over?” I asked myself as the helicopters began their descent towards Clark. I looked at Sonny C Lopez, my colleague at Ang Pahayagang Malaya, and the heavily armed Constabulary troops with yellow ribbons on their rifles who were with us.

We were at the announcer’s booth of DWGV-FM where we have been broadcasting reformist messages since we and a group of activists from the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and military rebels from the Reformed the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) took control of the station hours earlier.

For the past two hours, Sonny and I have been calling on Kapampangans to take part in a local version of People Power that was taking place at the Bamban Bridge where civilians and rebel troops have formed a human barricade to prevent Marcos loyalist forces from reinforcing the beleaguered regime in Manila. “Ayun na yata sina Marcos, mukhang dumaan na po sa atin,” Sonny announced.

Sonny may have intended it as a joke but it was actually no laughing matter. A few minutes later, I placed the usual press collect call to Malaya to give an update about the barricade in Bamban. The newsdesk took in my report and asked if we monitored some unusual helicopter movements near Clark. I was told several helicopters took off into the night from the presidential palace about half an hour earlier.

“Oh, two actually just flew over us a few minutes ago,” I told the editor not knowing that the two HH-3Es were carrying the disgraced President and members of the First Family along with Armed Forces Chief of Staff Fabian Ver. Those Jolly Greens were among five from the 31st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron of the United States 13th Air Force at Clark that were dispatched to Malacañang earlier that evening to end the tense four-day standoff.

“That’s them!” the excited voice on the other end of the line said. “It’s over!”

* * *

At past noon of the fourth day, leaders of Bayan-Pampanga were summoned for an urgent meeting at a small apartment that serves as their office along Raxa Matanda, a small alley between Miranda and Jesus Streets. Among those present were human rights lawyer Ed Pamintuan Pamintuan and former Holy Angel University student leader Alexander Cauguiran , the chairman and secretary general, respectively of one of the more active chapters of the largest cause-oriented organization in the Philippines.

There was only one item in the agenda: What will Bayan’s role be? Will it choose to remain in the sidelines and just ignore the uprising that was taking place just less than 100 kilometers away? The question was something that Pamintuan and Cauguiran want answered. After all, the two were among the stalwarts of an organization that had since its founding been actively leading a mass-based effort to overthrow the Marcos regime.

Even before the meeting started, the division within Bayan was evident. Having boycotted the elections, Bayan leaders would not want to have anything to do with a rebellion led by right-wing military officers who they said have committed grave human rights abuses against their fellow political dissenters and supported by the country’s political elite. The most Bayan leaders were willing to do was to wait and see how the situation in EDSA would evolve before deciding what action to take.

Pamintuan and Cauguiran were told to wait as there was a protest being scheduled in a few days by the regional group, Bayan-Gitnang Luson. Its Secretary General Carmelo Virgilio Lim has in fact been making the rounds of the city, urging Angeleños to take part in the rally at the Plaza Miranda that Bayan was organizing.

Pamintuan and Cauguiran were told to wait as there was a protest being scheduled in a few days by the regional group, Bayan-Gitnang Luson. Its Secretary General Carmelo Virgilio Lim has in fact been making the rounds of the city, urging Angeleños to take part in the rally at the Plaza Miranda that Bayan was organizing.

Pamintuan and Cauguiran did not want to wait. They insisted on immediate action. They knew history would not be kind to them if they stay out in the sidelines.

“Dapat magwakas na ang kinamumuhiang diktadurya. Kung kinakailangan, itaya natin ang ating mga sarili, para matuluyan na ang naghihingalong diktadurya,” Cauguiran said, while pounding the table.“Kasaysayan, hindi tayo sa panahong ito, ang magsasabi kung tama o mali na magsasanib tayo ng pwersa sa RAM.”

Adamant as Cauguiran was, the Bayan hardliners also stood their ground. The two were asked:

“Assuming we participate, do we have enough forces?”

“Is it correct to support the forces of the enemy?”

“Why don’t we wait for more time to see more events unfold and then act accordingly.”

“Alang malyari kng People Power ayan. Atchanan dalang granada or bomba ren mamamaglako nala and that’s the end of the rally.”

The hardliners could not be swayed. Pamintuan could not hide his disappointment.

 

IMG_0438

Pamintuan (right) and Cauguiran (left). 

“You are now far out from the people! Eyu na balu ing malilyari because you are totally isolated from the temperament of the Filipino people! Detached na kayo kng reality!” an agitated Pamintuan told them. He would know. Two days prior, Pamintuan decided to see for himself and went to EDSA. He knew what the people’s pulse was. The rest in the room do not.

Whether the rest agreed or not, Pamintuan and Cauguiran declared that they will support the uprising. They will start to mobilize people and bring them to EDSA.

***

The two were set to walk out of the meeting when they heard a knock on the door. It was Maj. Mariano Carbungco, the deputy Angeles police chief. A neighbor of both Pamintuan and Cauguiran in Marisol Subdivision, Major Carbungco was a former political prisoner who spent almost two years in detention. He was a police captain when he was arrested for “opening his mouth” following the declaration of martial law in 1972.

Smiling sheepishly, Major Carbungco asked for Pamintuan: “Malyari kayung munta 173rd? Papasaup ya i Colonel Espino.”

Carbungco was referring to Lt. Col. Amado T. Espino, commander of the Angeles Metropolitan District Command (Metrodiscom). A member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1972, Espino shot to prominence as a member of the Constabulary team that snared Bernabe Buscayno, the Kapampangan chieftain of the communist New People’s Army (NPA). A protégé of his fellow Pangasinense, Constabulary chief General Fidel Ramos, Espino was also member of RAM—the rebel military clique that triggered the uprising.

Ot payaus nakami?” Pamintuan asked Major Carbungco.

“Ikayu mu kanu ing makapag pa-rally kaagad tao kasi migbaligtad ne i Colonel Espino at mag People Power niya naman kanu,” Major Carbungco said. He pleaded for Pamintuan to go with him to the Metrodiscom Headquarters at Camp Tomas Pepito in Sto. Domingo.

“Ikayu mu kanu ing makapag pa-rally kaagad tao kasi migbaligtad ne i Colonel Espino at mag People Power niya naman kanu,” Major Carbungco said. He pleaded for Pamintuan to go with him to the Metrodiscom Headquarters at Camp Tomas Pepito in Sto. Domingo.

The other Bayan leaders were appalled. “No, Ed! Eka mabibisa!”

But Pamintuan had already made up his mind. “Lakwan dana kayu keni! Gawa kaming paralan na ali tamu malakwan at mabura tamu kng istorya ning Pampanga at ning People Power! Dapat tanang sumaup because in just another day or two, it will all be over!”

With that, he and Cauguiran headed for the door.

***

Pamintuan immediately left Raxa Matanda and proceeded to the Bayan-Gitnang Luson offices at the Camalig Compound along Sto. Rosario Street. He was met there by banker Benedicto Tiotuico, another leader of Bayan-Pampanga, who joined him in the 15-minute drive to Camp Tomas Pepito.

Upon reaching the entrance of the camp, Pamintuan told the sentry Colonel Espino was expecting him. He was directed to a bungalow near the camp’s main building. Espino, in olive drab fatigues, was at his quarters talking to lawyer Eduardo Ayson when Pamintuan and Tiotuico arrived. The officer seemed restive but heaved a sigh of relief upon seeing the lawyer. Espino shook Pamintuan’s hands and asked him to take a seat. Ayson remained standing at Espino’s right side.

“Ed pagtulungan natin ito. The loyalists are going to make a last-ditched effort to break through the People Power at EDSA and try to save Marcos,” Espino told Pamintuan. He intimated that loyalist troops and armor from the North were monitored to be preparing to reinforce Malacanang and that rebel forces were ordered to prevent these forces from reaching Manila.

With the 3rd Regional Constabulary Command and the Clark Air Base Command already withdrawing their support for President Marcos, the nearest military unit that remained loyal was the Army’s 5th Infantry Division based at Camp Servillano Aquino in Tarlac. The 5th ID under the command of Brig. Gen. Antonio Palafox has operational control over Army battalions in Central and Northern Luzon that have been at the forefront of the fight against the communist New People’s Army. If General Palafox is able to mobilize his battle-hardened troops and armored assets, it could spell disaster for the rebel forces and their civilian backers in Manila.

The task of preventing the passage of the loyalist forces fell on Espino. As Metrodiscom commander, Espino’s area of responsibility covers not just Angeles City but also the municipalities of Porac and Mabalacat. If pro-Marcos troops leave Camp Aquino, the fastest way for them to reach Manila would be by travelling down MacArthur Highway all the way to Dau in Mabalacat where they could take the North Luzon Expressway. If they take this route, loyalist troops would have to pass through the Metrodiscom’s area.

Espino outlined his plan to Pamintuan. He intended to stop loyalist forces that would take the MacArthur Highway at the Bamban Bridge at the boundary of Pampanga and Tarlac, some 100 kilometers from Manila. The concrete bridge connecting Bamban with Mabalacat was several stories above the Sacobia River. It was a good chokepoint. It was the only way to the North Expressway. If blocked, loyalist forces would have no choice but to turn back and take a longer route via Nueva Ecija and Bulacan.

Espino told Pamintuan a small contingent of reformist troops from Camp Olivas and Clark was on its way to secure the bridge. He, however, knew the rebel soldiers would be of no match to any incoming loyalist force. He needed help. As Metrodiscom chief, Espino knew very well that only the cause-oriented movement has the machinery to mobilize people to action.

He has seen how just months earlier the entire province of Bataan came to a standstill during a welgang bayan against the controversial Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. A former political prisoner, Pamintuan was a respected leader of the cause-oriented movement and was among those who helped mobilized the thousands who turned out in Bataan for what would be the first show of people power in the post-martial law era.

“Please mag-People Power kayo sa Bamban at Mabalacat,” said Espino.

“No problem, pare, we will do it,” Pamintuan said.

“No pasaran. We will make sure they shall not pass,” he told Espino, quoting from the cry of leftist Republican troops who defended Madrid against the Falangists during the Spanish Civil War.

“No pasaran. We will make sure they shall not pass,” he told Espino, quoting from the cry of leftist Republican troops who defended Madrid against the Falangists during the Spanish Civil War.

At that very moment, the left-wing Bayan and the right-wing RAM joined forces. It was probably the only time in recent history where the two opposing sides agreed to work together.

The pact had been sealed when Sonny and I arrived at the camp on board his owner-type jeep he fondly called “Rowena.” By then, the discussions have shifted on how to mobilize more people to support the planned action at the Bamban Bridge.

Noting how effective Radio Veritas was in mobilizing the tens of thousands that were now gathered at EDSA, Sonny and I proposed the takeover of local radio stations DWGV. Espino immediately agreed to the proposal and ordered one of his officers, Maj. Nestor Senares, to accompany the takeover group.

As we prepared to leave, Ayson told Pamintuan: “Ed makyabe ku keka ne?” With that, Ayson became the first civilian to throw his support to what would be remembered as the Bamban Barricade.

* * *

DWGV was the most powerful FM station in Pampanga. Its broadcast could be heard in all the six provinces that comprised Central Luzon. The station was located on the top floor of the Jao Building—the tallest structure in the city—near the corner of Miranda Street and Plaridel Street in downtown Angeles. It was adjacent to the San Nicolas Public Market and the Johnny’s Supermarket.

It was almost 2:30 p.m. when we arrived. Sonny and I came on board Rowena. Ed, Dick Tiotuico, Boy Ayson came in separate vehicles. A truck full of heavily armed Constabulary troops came with us. Shop owners and passersby started scampering when the soldiers jumped out of the truck and took positions outside the Jao Building. Some of them entered Estrella’s Bookstore and emerged later with yellow ribbons tied to the muzzles of their M-16s. It was only then that the people realized they were reformists and not Marcos loyalists. They started clapping and cheering and flashing the Laban sign.

Together with Pamintuan, Major Senares and several armed escorts, we quickly entered the building and rushed up several flights of stairs. Time was of the essence. We entered the station. Nobody was there except for a technician and the disc jockey playing his selection of mellow music for that afternoon’s program. The group approached him.

Pare, pwede ba kaming manawagan ng People Power,” Pamintuan asked the DJ.

The DJ looked and him and said no.

Lumele ka ken!” an incensed Pamintuan said as he signalled Senares and his men to aim their M-16s at the DJ. With all those guns pointed at him, the DJ quickly yielded the controls. Sonny immediately took over and declared over the air: “This is the revolutionary government announcing the takeover of this radio station.”

We now had our own version of Radio Veritas. Sonny introduced Pamintuan, Major Seneres and the other members of the takeover party. He then asked Pamintuan to speak.

“Sa lahat po nang ating mga kabalen, papasok po ang malaking bahagi nang pwersa manggagaling nang Norte para tulungan si Marcos. Huwag natin payagan na mangasawi ang mga kababayan natin sa EDSA,” Pamintuan said.

“Sa lahat po nang ating mga kabalen, papasok po ang malaking bahagi nang pwersa manggagaling nang Norte para tulungan si Marcos. Huwag natin payagan na mangasawi ang mga kababayan natin sa EDSA,” Pamintuan said.

“Inaanyayahan ko po kayo na sumali sa Peope Power na gaganapin sa Bamban at Mabalacat ngayong hapon. Magdala po kayo ng mga sasakyan na pwede natin ipanghaharang sa mga sundalong dadaan sa tulay.”

After making his announcement, Pamintuan left to help in the mobilization. Cauguiran, who by then had organized and dispatched the first wave of Bayan members to Bamban, showed up at the station. He was cheered by the rebel Constabulary troops. He made an impassioned appeal for public support and left to rejoin his group. Colonel Espino arrived later and made a similar appeal.

We were not aware of it but many heard the call and heeded it. By nighttime, thousands of Kapampangans have made their way to Mabalacat and have massed up along the approach to Bamban Bridge. It was a spontaneous, unprecedented display of People Power. A few hours later, President Marcos fled Malacañang. After four days, it was finally over

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